HC Deb 15 July 1953 vol 517 cc2188-209

10.3 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I beg to move. That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1953, dated 26th June, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1st July, be approved.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

On a point of order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? The Parliamentary Secretary is proposing to discuss the scheme standing in the name of the Government. We have a Prayer down asking that the Order relating to the White Fish Authority levy should be annulled. I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if the scheme and the Prayer could be debated together. I am quite sure that the debate could range over both of these aspects of the fishing industry, and I hope that you will allow that to be done.

Mr. Speaker

If the House is agreeable to that course I have no objection.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

Does that mean that both the Prayer and the scheme will be taken at the same time and that the discussion can range over the two?

Mr. Speaker

That, I understood, was the idea.

Mr. Evans

The Prayer, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), is as follows: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the White Fish Authority (General Levy) (Amendment) Regulations Confirmatory Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 887), dated 27th May, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th May, be annulled.

Mr. Nugent

Might I say, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Government, that we shall be pleased to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) to discuss the two together. It will save time and they deal with very much the same subject.

Although this is the first scheme relating to the white fish subsidy which has come before the House under the 1953 White Fish and Herring Industry Act, the subsidy is in itself no novelty. It was introduced in 1950 to meet the economic difficulties of the industry. It was hoped at that time, when it was introduced on a somewhat ad hoc basis, that if would be temporary and would soon be brought to an end, but, unfortunately, the troubled conditions of the fishing industry continued and it has been carried on year by year since then on an administrative basis. We felt that it must be put on a statutory basis, and, therefore, we put into the 1953 Act power to make schemes for paying the subsidies, and I am now moving the first subsidy scheme.

With one amendment of substance, this is the same scheme as has been running for the past three years under administrative arrangements. Briefly, it provides for the inshore fishing vessels the continuance of a flat-rate subsidy of 10d. per stone for all fish caught, other than shellfish, which is the same as before, and for the near and middle water vessels it provides the continuance of the scheme to which we have been accustomed in the past, a kind of voyage insurance scheme as set out in Part I of the Schedule. In broad terms, that is a scheme which gives a payment of so much a day according to the size and condition of the vessel.

The new feature is that in addition to the voyage insurance scheme we are proposing to pay a 4d. per stone flat-rate for all fish caught by the near and middle water vessels. We are doing this because, during the past year, we have found that the economic conditions of the near and middle water fishing fleets have, unfortunately, continued to deteriorate. They showed some improvement in 1951, but in 1952 they have shown further deterioration, and in recognition of that, under the administrative arrangements then running, in our review last March we decided that we should pay this flat rate in addition to the insurance scheme. The 4d. per stone flat rate was introduced on 1st April this year under administrative arrangements and is now incorporated in this scheme.

We have been asked to make an even more generous provision than this. The British Trawler Owners' Federation have told us of their difficulties and asked for more, but I submit that the provision that we are making is a generous one and should be sufficient to meet the industry's difficulties. I am the first to recognise that the industry has difficulties and that, even with this assistance, it will not have an easy time, but when we realise that the extra 4d., representing an extra £600,000 per year for the industry, will make a total subsidy for the inshore and near and middle water vessels of about some £2½ million per year, which is about 13 per cent. of the total revenue of the two fishing fleets, I am sure we shall agree that that is as far as the House should be asked to go at this stage.

One other aspect should be emphasised. The parent Act provides a total of £7½ million in subsidy to be spent over the next five years. There is provision for an additional £2½ million, making a total of £10 million altogether if the Minister is satisfied that there is a case for the extension, and the House approves. Even if the whole £10 million is taken into account, it represents an average of only £2 million a year over the whole five years.

I am recommending the House to approve a scheme which makes a payment of £2½ million a year and, therefore, to that extent committing us to a lower level in the future. It would be unwise further to commit this limited fund. I therefore feel confident that the House will see that this is a just and generous provision for the inshore and near middle water fishing fleets and that it will give it its approval.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House, I give a very warm welcome to this scheme. It is obvious that the policy initiated by the Labour Government three years ago, of applying a subsidy to the White Fish Industry, has now become absolutely essential to the well-being of that industry. When we discussed, earlier, the provision which allows the Minister to provide this subsidy we were all at one in acknowledging that it was very important indeed if this great industry was not to go out of commission altogether, and we were agreed that something should be done to stabilise and support it.

It is in that spirit that we on this side lend our support to this scheme, and it is interesting to observe the benefits not only to the class of fishing vessels in the near and inshore waters but to the actual crews themselves. In the Report of the White Fish Authority, I see that the annual earnings of crews in 1950–51 were, with subsidy £415 and without subsidy £371; in 1951–52, with subsidy £445 and without subsidy £385. That is a very substantial increase in earnings, dependent entirely on the application of the subsidy to the smaller vessels, and because of that the working fisherman was able to achieve that increase in his standard of living.

It is also true that the owner benefits. The total net profit with subsidy in 1951–52 was £27,491, and without the subsidy £4,474. Those are very telling figures, and although we were hoping that with the constitution of the White Fish Authority the industry would be able to pull itself together and get on an economic basis, we now know that, owing to world conditions, without a subsidy from the Exchequer it is very improbable if it could have achieved that position. I estimate that up to now over £4 million has passed from the Exchequer to the industry in order to help it.

I am very interested in this scheme. I notice that in previous schemes there were only three categories; in this one there seems to be nine, depending on the voyages to the Faroes and other voyages. I am glad to see that the limit in earnings in the case of 140 ft. vessels has risen from £780 to £1,440, which is practically double, and the maximum for any voyage from £144 to £180. Those are encouraging figures for the industry, but it is up to the industry to justify them and, if it can, to dispense with these subsidies, because in all-out fishing it is possible for a trawler to be able to live on its own work.

I hope that more and more we shall see a greater stabilisation in this industry. I shall be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will clear up the difficult point of the daily earning subsidy and also the figure of 4d. a stone which is ambiguous in the scheme, although perhaps I was thinking in terms of the old scheme. We must congratulate the Government on putting this scheme into operation.

If I may refer to the Prayer that it was my desire to move, it is a strange feature in these days that anyone should ask for less pay. However, it is not pleasing to me that the White Fish Authority should ask us to approve the cutting of their revenue by one half. On this side of the House we take a paternal interest in this matter, and I know that the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and other hon. Gentlemen opposite share our anxiety. It seems to us serious that a public authority, set up to rehabilitate the fishing industry, can say after two years of working that they have so much money that they do not know what to do with it. That is a grave reflection on them.

We put down our Prayer in order to ask the Parliamentary Secretary for an explanation of this phenomenon, because it is that, and to tell us a little more about the workings of the White Fish Authority. Having been particularly interested in setting up the Authority, I am sad to hear the criticisms about its non-activity which come from all the ports. I have here the annual report of the Chairman of the Milford Steam Trawling Company. He says: The White Fish Authority cannot be considered a success. It has done virtually nothing. I do not say that I agree with this, because there are qualifications, but that is how it is striking people in various parts of the country. He goes on: Various schemes have been adumbrated, but they have come to nothing largely because the co-operation of the industry has been forfeited. He uses the word "forfeited," but it has not been forthcoming for many reasons. To continue the quotation: A large sum in levy has been collected and there is talk of using some of this for an advertising campaign. The fate of the W.F.A. is a tragedy. The reasons for it are obscure. Perhaps it set its sights too high and ignored minor remedies in the search for one sovereign cure which has proved as elusive as the philosopher's stone;"— This is an eloquent fish merchant, I must say; he ought to be in this House— Perhaps it surrounds itself with self-made idealistic rules. It must act commercially; it must treat all alike, because it is a public authority. Such incompatible principles inhibit all action. One cannot run the fishing industry on precedent. That is precisely what the fishing industry has been running on for many years. We were hoping that the White Fish Authority would infuse a new spirit into it, particularly a new spirit of co-operation.

In my view, the greatest disability is the fluctuation of interests within the industry itself. To name a few, there is the near water and distant water, the inshore and trawling, the seine net and trawling and, I am sorry to have to say it, there is England and Scotland. We were hoping that all these conflicting interests would be co-ordinated by the White Fish Authority. Then there is the producer and the merchant, combined for once against the friers and the fishmongers.

There are several aspects of the work which cause us disquiet. I am appalled that with such huge resources, with a surplus of £244,000—

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

Two hundred and seventy-seven thousand pounds.

Mr. Evans

I spoke from memory— that with all these resources, so little, only £824, is spent on research and about £700 on training.

We have often said, we said it in Committee on the occasion of the Government's last Sea Fish Industry Bill, that one of the prime needs is to recruit into this service young people who are to man the fleets in the future. The decline in the numbers of trawlers is deplorable; and more deplorable and tragic still is the decline in the numbers of young men who are coming forward. Along the coast, in the seaports, there are technical schools for young people who we are hoping will train to be mates and skippers. All that the White Fish Authority can do to help those local authorities is to pay out £800.

In connection with research, one thinks of the vast sums spent in technical research in the chemical industry and in agriculture, which is a kind of sister industry to fishing. I concede, of course, that the Ministry spends a considerable amount on research, but we were hoping that with all these resources the White Fish Authority could do a little better than expend £700 on research. There are any number of fields of research— research into new fishing grounds and into the habits of fish.

It is particularly important that we should conduct research into the question of new fishing grounds. Bearing in mind the kind of action taken by Norway in closing their coast, and by Iceland, about which there has been a tremendous amount of feeling in the country, it is very important indeed that the White Fish Authority should expand its research development and try to discover new fishing grounds. Otherwise, there will be very little fish in this country in a few years' time. We all know that over-fishing has been and is one of the major problems confronting us, particularly in the near and middle water fishings. We had the problem of the Moray Firth raised in the House only a day or two ago; and there are other problems.

I suggest that the White Fish Authority are the appropriate body to take action over the Icelandic imbroglio. Why let the initiative go to the British Trawler Owners' Federation? Good luck to the Federation for taking the initiative, but I should have thought that the appropriate body would have been the White Fish Authority, who might now transfer it to the Over-Fishing Commission which has been set up, and on which, I understand, we have two members.

As I have said, the figures in relation to the fleet are most disquieting. The White Fish Authority state, in their Report—which is interesting, but not particularly constructive; it is more a historical document than a forward-looking document—gives figures of the state of the fishing fleet and the age distribution of the trawler fleet at 31st December, 1952. Vessels built from 1891 to 1912 number 128 in England and Wales and 46 in Scotland. So we get down to the early years of the century. I should say that rather more than half the fleet today is over 30 years old.

There is any amount of legislation. When we were in power we passed a very useful Bill giving great sums of money, running into millions, in loans and grants. This year we have again allocated vast sums and today there are £25 million available to the White Fish Authority to enable new vessels to have grants or loans. It is time something was done about the matter, but we shall not be able to do anything until we recruit the men.

I should have thought one of the major tasks of the White Fish Authority lay in the field of marketing and distribution. If only we could persuade the average housewife to buy a little more fish a week, the whole of the fishing problem would be solved. The amounts going for meal and manure need not go for those purposes if only we could eat a little more fish per family. With all these funds lying idle, I should have thought the White Fish Authority could embark on a great campaign of publicity and marketing. In that, I feel sure that a great deal of their best efforts would lie.

Very few of us know what is the essential problem of the fishing industry. That is a remarkable thing to say, but I have been on the periphery of the industry for about 25 years and I know rather less now than I knew when I first became interested in it, because then I thought I knew it all. We ought to have a blueprint of the fishing industry. Many hon. Members opposite and on this side of the House are more knowledgeable on this matter than I am. I am sure they would agree that all the ramifications of the industry ought to be plotted and it is the duty of the Government to let us know the problems and how we should tackle them.

In recent years the box difficulty has emerged. Why cannot the White Fish Authority buy up the boxes and lease them? They would then have power to sue for non-return. Today, owners are most diffident about going into court in order to sue for non-return of boxes but the White Fish Authority, being outside the trade, could undertake that service.

I should like to see more adventure in the Authority. It has a very distinguished sailor at its head. During the war he was one of our most adventurous commanders. I wish he would show a little more adventurous spirit today in this great problem of the fishing industry. I wish the Authority could do something to shorten the journey of the fish from the ship to the slab. Let us get more direct contact and cut out some of the stopping places on the road. I should like to see direct service instituted. The White Fish Authority have to get down to these jobs. One job they have to do is to tell us about—to instruct us and help us on—the question of foreign landings, which is a very acute question and one on which the industry feels very strongly.

We shall hear what is said in the course of the debate before deciding how far to press the Prayer.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans). We have been "buddies" in this House for many years and are very interested in fishing matters.

The question of an increase of subsidy for the near water and middle distance vessels is a very good move, but it would have been a better move if we had cut out the daily sum altogether and increased the subsidy as a straight subsidy per stone. The new proposal is worth a trial. The inherent weakness in this method of paying subsidies is that when there is a daily payment and results fall short of a certain sum a vessel can tie up for two or three days and still get the money. In fact, that has been done. There is a further incentive to near water and middle distance men, but it would have been a better incentive if it were a straight subsidy per stone.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are very deeply concerned about the state of affairs in the White Fish Authority. We played our part in the discussions on the Sea Fish Industry Bill which set up the White Fish Authority. When that Bill was being debated, we on this side of the House stated that, in our opinion, the setting up of the White Fish Authority was not the solution to the problems of the white fish industry. We took the view that it was only an instrument, and that it all depended on how that instrument was used.

The instrument has been handled very badly. There is no getting away from that. Problems which the White Fish Authority are in duty bound to tackle have not been tackled. The question of fishing grounds is surely something within the province of the Authority. We must realise that the extension of territorial waters is very much in the air. What happened at the International Court at The Hague in regard to Norwegian territorial waters started the ball rolling, and the probability is that we shall have other such problems.

We must find other fishing grounds. As has been said in this House on previous occasions, we must explore the Gulf Stream area. Wherever there is plankton, there is edible fish, and the plankton lives and has its being in the Gulf Stream.

Again, there is the question of fishing methods. For generations we have been tied to the otter trawl, the most destructive method of fishing that man has ever devised. So long as we can catch fish with the floating trawl we are all right. Here is a subject on which a great deal of research and experiment have been carried out by Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but our White Fish Authority is obviously doing nothing about it. A vessel equipped with all kinds of trawls should be out in mid-Atlantic today fishing for edible fish.

With regard to the reduction of the levy, obviously, this body does not know how to spend its money. I think it is desirable that the levy should be reduced, but it is incumbent on the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to ensure that the instrument is properly operated. If the personnel which is at present handling the affairs of the White Fish Authority is not adequate for the job, then it is the duty of the Minister to see that the right men are given the job. It could be a great instrument if properly handled, but if it is not properly handled then the responsibility rests with this House.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) and my hon. Friend have covered much of the ground concerning these Statutory Instruments, I do not propose to detain the House for very long, because I completely agree with what they have already said, but there are one or two points which I want to put to the Minister, and which may have a slight variation in colour to what has already been stated.

I welcome the subsidy scheme, but no doubt the Minister is aware that at present there is no extra help with regard to the inshore fishing industry. When he is reflecting upon these matters, I want him to think not only in terms of the percentage of fish caught by that part of the industry but to bear in mind that we have to keep open the small ports of the United Kingdom in the interests of defence and also that from the inshore fishermen we draw men who can defend this island in time of peril. At all times, the Minister must bear these vital points in mind.

He must also consider that rather mysterious form of fishing, the shellfish industry. In this scheme it has no benefit at all; yet, despite the mystery which surrounds it, it is there, and if we are to get our people thoroughly to appreciate sea food in all its great variety, and if our people are to think in terms of different types of fish and not just fish, which is so necessary, then we might turn aside and think of the shellfish industry's difficulties as well.

I share the anxiety expressed about the whole question of the White Fish Authority. Nobody has greater respect than I for the gallant man who runs it, but we want to see that the enormous force which is latent in him is used to the fullest extent to promote this industry. If we realise that the whole fishing industry, even now, is like unto agriculture in the time of the hunter—because we have to hunt fish—then the research which has to be made, and the number of things which have to be looked into, become obvious to all hon. Members.

Yet, when all the research and all the inclination to find out what has to be done appears obvious to us all, it is at that time that the Authority states we have enough money, and can do with less. Much as one likes to have not to pay so much, it appears strangely strange that they cannot find sufficient things on which to spend money for the development of the industry.

Perhaps all is not well with the Authority in which we vested such great hopes; and we did hope that it would help to solve some of the problems. But, in fairness, no hon. Member who had anything to do with the passage of the Bill through Parliament failed to realise that the problems confronting the Authority were very heavy.

10.39 p.m.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I, too, am grateful, so far as my part of the world is concerned, for the assistance these proposals give to the near and middle water fishing fleets. We gladly recognise that the Government is now coming forward with some additional assistance to those engaged in the fishing industry. I would, however, emphasise that not only is the white fish industry indebted to the Government for this additional help but the Government are greatly indebted to the fishing community for the support they give, in a general sense, to the country.

I could wish that as much attention was paid to the problems of the fishing industry as is paid to the problems of agriculture. I have very often listened to hon. Members in this House making attacks on those who go out on the high seas, not only to earn their own livelihoods but to earn valuable assets for this country. It is tremendously important that all should realise the debt of gratitude we owe to our fishing fleets and to those who sail in them.

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his confirmation of the fact that the near and middle water fishing vessels have been going through a very serious and difficult time. That should be a quite conclusive answer to those who sometimes doubt the stories of hardship told by the British trawler owners and those who earn their livings at the fishing ports. Doubt is sometimes cast upon the statements they make about their difficulties. My hon. Friend emphasised the fact that those difficulties were very real, and that the near and middle water fishing fleets must have some assistance if they are to overcome the problems which face them.

Certain statements have been made about the White Fish Authority. I support my hon. Friends and the hon. Member opposite and say that I—and all those who are engaged in the fishing industry are very disappointed with the performance of the White Fish Authority. It may be that when that Authority was formed the problems it had to face were not sufficiently appreciated, but it would probably be to the benefit of the fishing industry if a change were made in its personnel. I am sorry to have to say this, because one always realises that when people take on a rather difficult task they do the best they possibly can to make it a success. But we are not concerned with personalities; we are concerned with getting the best men for a very important and essential job.

I hope that when the reappointment of the White Fish Authority—which, I understand, is due next year—comes up for consideration by the Minister, he will try to find out whether he can get more expert people to serve on it. Unless something is done to assist our fishing industry I can only say—speaking particularly for my own port, North Shields —that we shall face a very difficult future. The country cannot afford to have a sick fishing industry, and I hope, therefore, that between now and the time when the Authority has to be reappointed, my hon. Friend will consider its composition and see whether it is not possible to get it manned by people who can deal more firmly and in better heart with the problems which have to be faced.

That is all I want to say, except to thank my hon. Friend for the action he has taken, and to say, at the same time, that we require a great deal more thought, care and explanation to the public of their debt to our fishing industry. I wish my hon. Friend and the industry well. It is an industry of vital importance to our people.

Mr. D. Marshall

The hon. Lady used the word "attack." I assume she meant that word to apply to prices and not to the men who go to sea?

Miss Ward

I have listened to people talking about the price that is paid for fish, without having any regard for those who man our ships and bring back the fish. I quite agree that we want the housewives to have the best quality fish at the lowest possible price, but a proper price has to be paid for the fish landed, and it is extremely disheartening, when I go down to my port, to see the difficulties experienced in marketing first-class catches of white fish. It ought to be pointed out to the consumer and the shop-keepers that the fishermen have problems, and that in attacking prices due consideration must be given to the legitimate interests of the men who make the catches.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I do not want to be too critical of this draft scheme, but I think it is quite unworthy of the White Fish Authority. It does not deal fully with the problems the Authority were set up to meet. The Authority has been a great disappointment to all well-wishers of the industry.

I entirely support what the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) said, and I also agree with what the hon. Lady said about the constitution of the industry as a whole. When she spoke of the courage and skill of fishermen she did not exaggerate. The White Fish Authority does not appear to realise that the industry is spread all round our coasts, and that fishing communities in certain remote districts are being driven out of business by high freight rates.

The Authority have done nothing about that, and places like Aberdeen, Lerwick and Wick, remote from Billingsgate, are undoubtedly placed in a position of being unable to compete with places nearer the market large consuming centres of the South. I see you are nodding, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to say anything which is out of order, but I do urge the Authority, through you, to bear in mind the freight problem.

Mr. Edward Evans

Will the hon. and learned Member not agree that equalisation applies equally to vegetables, fruit and coal?

Mr. Hughes

That question would entice me to give an answer which would be completely out of order.

Mr. Speaker

Then I would advise the hon. and learned Gentleman not to fall into that temptation.

Mr. Hughes

My answer to the hon. Gentleman would be in the affirmative, Sir.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

I have three brief points to make. The first concerns the importance of this subsidy. Some may feel that the inshore fishermen of England and Wales have done rather better than in fact they have. If we look at page 13 of the White Fish Authority's Report we see that with the subsidy in 1950–51, the Scottish vessels made an average of £406 a year whereas the English and Welsh vessels made an average of £307. In 1951–52, the Scottish vessels made £479 and the British vessels £319.

That suggests that the British inshore fishermen have not done as well as their Scottish counterparts. Yet they have the same costs of gear to meet. I hope that in future their special needs will be borne in mind. I will not mention the needs of the shell fishermen which I have mentioned many times before in the House.

My second point concerns the criticism of the Authority. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) said we all wished them well and I agree, but I think it is perhaps unfortunate that they have not publicised their activities sufficiently. Quite by chance the other day I heard that they are taking active steps to help with training grants which will be invaluable to the share fishermen of the inshore industry. I hope they will take more trouble to see that these things are made known to the fishermen.

Lastly, I support what has been said about their spending money on research. If only the White Fish Authority could spend money on some of the research which has been suggested, such as the development of the floating trawl and the development of new types of gear—which is far too expensive for the inshore fishermen—experimenting with nylon, for instance, for the long liners, they might be using their surplus funds to good effect. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear these points in mind.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

I have nothing to say about the scheme beyond mentioning a point of procedure. As the Minister will remember, it was in response to a request from this side of the House that the Government agreed to make this procedure subject to affirmative Resolution and agreed that the first scheme should last for two years and then should have to be brought before the House again. If there is not much discussion on the scheme tonight, I hope that he will not assume that the affirmative Resolution procedure was unnecessary. When we have had a little experience of how the scheme works and when the Minister or his successor comes back to the House in two years' time I think he will find this procedure extremely useful and I think hon. Members will make full use of it.

I want to try to put the purpose of the Prayer straight to the Government, as an issue of principle about the Authority. If one simply looks at the accounts of the Authority one cannot be surprised that they are suggesting a reduction of the levy—in other words, a reduction in their revenue—because they have a handsome surplus. What we are concerned to know, however, is why they have a handsome surplus when there seem to be so many things for which the money could be used. I noticed in March this year that there was pressure from the trade for the abolition of the levy because of the growing surplus, and when the Authority refused to accede to that request the inference was drawn in some quarters of the industry—I quote from the trade Press— that they were refusing because they were confident of putting plans into operation which would bring worthwhile benefits to the industry. Now we find they want to reduce, if not abolish, the levy. Are we to deduce from that reduction that the converse is true—namely, that they no longer have any confidence that they are going to put useful schemes before the industry and before the country? I am the more worried when I see what has happened to schemes which they have already proposed. Take the transport equalisation proposal mentioned in the second annual report. They say they still believe in the scheme. It was dropped not because they had lost confidence in it but because of resistance from the trade. When they decided that they could not implement it, although it was a good scheme, they say they sought an alternative way of relieving some of the inshore fishing ports.

In the report it is said that the annual sum required for this alternative policy, though comparatively small, could not be met from the funds of the authority. Now we find it deliberately reducing its funds. I do not know what is meant by a comparatively small sum. Its first big scheme was turned down through opposition from the trade. It then produces a more modest alternative, and that has to be turned down through lack of funds. We would like to know what is the attitude of the Government to that sort of difficulty. This summer most sections of the industry have been in considerable difficulties. In face of this we have seen some elements of the industry trying to organise themselves. That is something new for this industry.

We had, first, the Scarborough conference, which combined most of the interests, except the workers. From that I see there are now emerging plans for a joint council for the industry, and the distant water vessels development scheme for co-operation between the producing sections of the two big ports of Grimsby and Hull. I might remind the House that the distant water vessels development scheme is, of course, a restrictive scheme. In the opinion of the White Fish Authority, while the scheme, in their view, is not prejudicial to the interests of the consumer, it is the sort of scheme which should not rest with one small group of trawler owners.

The decision to ban Iceland imports was equally a sectional matter and was equally arbitrary. I know quite well that nearly all the merchants were strongly opposed to it, but were intimidated into accepting it and have never dared to speak against it since its introduction. That is what is done by means of pressure within the industry. The White Fish Authority's schemes, on the other hand, are constantly coming to nothing because of objections: for instance, the freezing scheme, the box pool scheme and the transport equalisation scheme. The report also found too little co-operation in the trade for the costing investigation, and stated that the Authority must now make use of its compulsory powers.

It is time for the Government to say what they intend to do. Is it right, in this industry, to have no collective organisation, which has been, roughly speaking, the case in the past? Or are the Government content with occasional spasmodic efforts when one powerful group happens to dragoon the others so as to get some collective action? Or are they prepared to give the White Fish Authority not only power but, what is much more important, the political backing which is required if there is to be any organisation of this industry in the public interest—in the interest of the consumer as well as of the industry?

I share some of the criticisms of the White Fish Authority, but that report shows signs of some good work and some useful beginnings. There may be difficulties of personnel, but the important question is whether the political backing is there to encourage the Authority, when it has a scheme, to go ahead with the certainty that the Minister and this House will back it to the full, despite the objections which will always be raised when any scheme is produced, however good it is.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

I am in an unenviable position in answering the debate on the Prayer—like Ishmael with every man's hand against him. Some hon. Members have shown a little sympathy for the White Fish Authority but all who have spoken have expressed a feeling of general disappointment that their expectations when the 1951 Act was placed on the Statute Book have not been realised.

I should like to deal with one or two points raised by hon. Members and also make one or two general comments. Although I was a Member of the House at the time I was not concerned intimately with the Bill passing through the House, but I have read again the HANSARDS of that time, in 1951, when everybody recognised, as, indeed, hon. Members have recognised tonight, that the Authority were given a tremendous job to do.

The problems of the fishing industry are problems which have baffled the minds of the industry and the Government for many years. Therefore, whoever were the personnel on this Authority they could not have expected to achieve really dramatic results in a couple of years, for it is only two years since they were appointed formally on 31st May, 1951. Considerable as were their difficulties in 1951 I am afraid that they have even intensified since then. Other features have appeared which have made their difficulties even greater.

It is reasonable to ask the House, in judging what the Authority have managed to do, to recognise, as some hon. Members have recognised tonight, the problems of the fishing industry. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) asked what was the fundamental problem of the industry. It is extremely hard to define. Quite obviously, a cure cannot be found for it until the problem itself has been found. Although the Authority admit that they have gone off to a slow and perhaps rather shaky start I think that their Report shows useful beginnings, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) has said. The Authority are beginning to look, on the one hand, at the problems of the industry and, on the other hand, at some of the immediate needs with which they can deal without any doubt.

It is certain that until they have made a survey of both the catching and the distributive sides of the industry they cannot usefully propose any major cures or re-organisation. The Report states that they have now registered wholesalers which, in itself, is a valuable piece of work and gives some idea of the pattern of distribution. They have produced in the Report a sample of the trading results of a number of wholesalers. That gives for the first time a picture of how these people are trading.

It is true that they say that they have not had all the co-operation that they would like and that they may need more powers to complete the job. If they apply to my right hon. Friend for those powers we shall consider that application very carefully. I should like to reassure the right hon. Member for Grimsby that we are fully backing this Authority. Anything useful and constructive that they can do within their statutory powers will have our full co-operation and backing, which, indeed, they have had during the last two years. So if it proves necessary that they should have powers to require further information in this field, we shall carefully consider whether we should not give them.

In the rest of the picture that has been surveyed, the question of boxes was raised by more than one hon. Member. It is true that they have not made any great progress up to date, but they are specifically proposing to do just what the hon. Member says—they are proposing to take control so that it will be they who will take action against defaulters in order to relieve the individual trader.

Mr. Edward Evans

Will they hire or buy, or act as agents? It is important.

Mr. Nugent

I do not propose at this late hour to read the hon. Gentleman a large section of the Report, but if I may refer him to page 19, paragraph 70, he will see there the complete proposals. They intend to do exactly what he says, which is to take sufficient control of the operation of the boxes so that it will be they who will take action against defaulters and not the individual trader.

Turning again to the progress they have been making during the year, I think it would be right to record that their work in the field of research, although again somewhat tentative, is beginning to be of value. Their work, mentioned on pages 24 and 25 of the Report in conjunction with the Torrey Research Station on quick freezing at sea, is something which, if successful, will undoubtedly make one of the greatest contributions to the industry.

In their approach to it, by the formation of technical committees, bringing together members of the trawling industry as well, they are making a practical approach to ensure that the scientist and the commercial man are each adequately represented. Although they are at this time reducing their levy, because they say they have enough money from a levy of ¼d. instead of ½d., they are nevertheless starting on exactly the work which I think every hon. and right hon. Member in the House wishes them to undertake.

I am sure that all hon. Members interested in the fishing industry will agree that to plunge into expensive and dramatic kinds of research, which may look attractive to the outsider, may be a complete waste of money. Surely the right thing is to approach this in a cautious manner and, when they are certain that they are on the right lines, they can branch out on a larger scale. They have at last got this work of possible quick freezing at sea in hand, and they hope in due course, when they have done the preparatory work at Torrey, to get a trawler fitted up with this equipment and out to sea to find out how it operates there.

In the judgment which the House must make of their application to reduce the levy from ½d. to ¼d., it would be wrong to say that they have failed completely because they are not spending the whole of the ½d. levy. That is the wrong standard by which to judge them. They have taken the view that they do not need £280,000 a year, that they can manage with £140,000 and, with a hard-pressed industry, what is the point of levying an additional ¼d. on it? They can put the levy up again by making an application in another year to raise it to ½d. or 1d. if necessary. But, first of all, they must lay the foundations on which they will build bigger research and bigger service in the future.

In reply to a point raised by the hon. Member for Lowestoft, they have been engaging in a publicity campaign. They have mounted one costing approximately £80,000 a year, which is being very successful in putting over to the consuming and the distributive trades the value of consuming more fish. In other words, they are doing exactly what the hon. Member would wish them to do. Their total budget, including provision for this publicity and including provision for research they have in hand, amounts to about £120,000. That leaves £266,000 in the bank ready to be called on if they need more in an emergency. If and when their work increases we shall certainly be willing for them to come forward and ask for an increase in the levy.

I believe that if hon. Members will read the Report with a not too critical eye they will see, as the right hon. Member for Grimsby said, that there are a number of useful beginnings and that this Authority are doing jobs which the House hoped they would do. I do not propose to enumerate them in detail; they are in the Report, which gives a perfectly frank and honest statement of what they have done. I think it shows that they have made a useful, constructive contribution in a singularly difficult field.

I commend the reading of this Report to hon. Members because I feel it does justify the confidence we have— despite all the criticisms and disappointments there may be—that the Authority are serving a useful purpose and will continue to have an influence which will greatly assist the hard-pressed fishing industry to meet some of its major problems. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Lowestoft will not pursue the Prayer.

Mr. Edward Evans

We are very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his defence of the Authority and his explanation of their activities. I think we ought to say that we concur wholly in the attitude of the White Fish Authority in proposing to reduce their levy at the moment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

The hon. Member must ask for the leave of the House if he wishes to speak again, as he has already made a statement.

Mr. Evans

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Motion for the Prayer has not been moved.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1953, dated 26th June, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1st July, be approved.